Left behind on climate change, too

As if he didn't have troubles enough, George Bush faces rebellion at home over his approach to climate change. Nine north-eastern states, including New York and New Jersey, are poised to set legal limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power stations, while in California Arnold Schwarzenegger is legislating to cut emissions in a way that could transform the motor industry.

Meanwhile, mayors representing 40 million people have pledged to adopt Kyoto targets for reducing emissions, and leading transnational firms are demanding cuts in CO2 so that they're not isolated as the developed world moves towards a low-carbon economy.

The administration now accepts that global warming is a problem and that it is partly caused by human activity. Its strategy is to cut greenhouse gas "intensity" - jargon for the amount of harmful gas produced for every unit of US economic output. To achieve that, it is encouraging business to invest in low-carbon technologies such as hydrogen cars.

Not good enough, say the north-eastern states, because under the Bush plan, as the economy grows the amount of greenhouse gases will still grow. The states' plan, or regional greenhouse gas initiative ("Reggie"), gives power stations binding targets for cutting their CO2 emissions. They can do it by installing new technology, or by buying CO2 allowances from firms that have cut more than their targets. Carbon allowances thus become tradeable. The states admit this will increase energy prices slightly, and Bush fears that putting a price on carbon will damage the economy, but a similar system to control sulphur emissions has worked successfully for 15 years.

California is being bolder. Governor Schwarzenegger aims to force car-makers to cut greenhouse gas emissions from their products by one-third in a decade. If the legislation survives legal challenges, other US states will follow, and other countries. No car-maker in the world could then ignore the requirement for lower CO2 emissions.

Despite Bush, then, the US is moving at last. Have they left it too late?

The writers' film, Gas Muzzlers, is on BBC News 24 at 4.30pm & 10.30pm on 5 November, and at 10.30am the next day

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